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Opinion Et tu, Alito? Murder of stare decisis creates legal circus maximus.

The Supreme Court building in Washington. (Jonathan Newton /The Washington Post)
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Now begins the era of stare indecisis.

Respect for precedent — known by the Latin stare decisis, “to stand by things decided” — had been a centuries-old cornerstone of the rule of law, necessary so “the scale of justice” doesn’t “waver with every new judge’s opinion,” as the 18th-century legal philosopher William Blackstone wrote.

But — et tu, Alito? — the Supreme Court’s radical right put the knife in stare decisis in its decision overturning Roe v. Wade and destroying 50 years of precedent upon precedent.

The dissenting justices wrote that “the majority abandons stare decisis,” an act that “threatens to upend bedrock legal doctrines,” “creates profound legal instability” and “calls into question this Court’s commitment to legal principle.”

The majority protested that it didn’t abandon stare decisis — then explained why it did: “Stare decisis is not an inexorable command. … Stare decisis is not a straitjacket.”

The burial of stare decisis leaves us, ipso facto, with a void: Which Latin phrase best describes the legal doctrine of this new era, in which judges rule by whim, not precedent? Well, thank your lucky stares, because my classics consultant, Vanessa (she asked that her surname not be used in order to speak Latin frankly), has many options.

On June 24, the Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, leaving abortion decisions up to the states. Here’s what you need to know — and what comes next. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

Labels such as “judicial modesty,” “judicial restraint” and “originalism” were trashed along with stare decisis. For this radical majority to claim “restraint” now would be the very definition of stare mendaciis — to stand by lies. Other better labels for the court majority’s new philosophy are stare deviis (to stand by inconsistent things), or perhaps stare fetore (to stand by a foul odor), in honor of the question Justice Sonia Sotomayor posed during oral arguments: “Will this institution survive the stench that this creates?”

But maybe most accurate is stare sodalitate — to stand by your political party. To the Romans, this meant either “electioneering gang” or “religious fraternity,” both apt descriptions of this court’s right wing.

There are other potential principles being thrown about. This week’s Jan. 6 committee hearing revealed that President Donald Trump, upon receiving displeasing information (such as his attorney general’s refusal to bless his election lies), would hurl his meal at the wall. This would be stare cibo iacto — to stand by thrown food (although other scholars use stare vasis fractis — to stand by broken dishes).

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The Republican Party, even now, remains steadfastly loyal to Trump, adhering to something called the Wynette Doctrine, stare homine tuo — stand by your man.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is claiming she was deceived by Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch into thinking they wouldn’t overturn Roe an instance of stare credulitate, to stand by gullibility.

At a Trump rally, Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.) practiced stare hominibus albis — to stand by White people — when she called the abortion decision a “victory for White life.” (She said she misspoke, although the crowd cheered.)

Congressional candidate Yesli Vega, the GOP nominee to replace Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) said that “it wouldn’t surprise me” if it were difficult for a woman to get pregnant from rape, “because it’s not something that’s happening organically,” according to an Axios recording. That’s called stare rapina legitima — to stand by legitimate rape — affirming the precedent set by Senate candidate Todd Akin (R-Mo.), who said in 2012: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is reviving the doctrine of stare contra pedicandum (to stand against sodomy) by saying he would defend a 1973 anti-sodomy law struck down two decades ago. Justice Clarence Thomas has invited challenges to that decision, as well as others protecting same-sex marriage and contraception.

Texts show that Thomas’s wife, Ginni, meanwhile, urged the Trump White House to “release the Kraken” of false election-fraud allegations — a philosophy known as stare monstris, to stand by sea monsters.

The court’s right-wing majority might also share the belief of Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), who said she’s “tired of this separation of church and state junk,” which she said came from a “stinking letter” by Thomas Jefferson, not the Constitution. Demonstrating stare templo — to stand by the church — Boebert decreed that “the church is supposed to direct the government.”

Another creed comes from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who attacked Elmo because “Sesame Street” encouraged coronavirus vaccination. That’s stare contra pupas — stand against Muppets.

The court’s recent rulings invite many other Latin descriptors: stare atrocitate (to stand by cruelty), stare decuriatione (to stand by intimidation), stare deminutione capitis (to stand by the loss of liberties). But ultimately a court that has abandoned precedent stands for nothing (stare nullis) except the raw exercise of power — stare imperio. And that leads to one place: stare ruina, to stand by destruction.

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